Stories like this pain me to my core.
The Asbury Park Press reported today of the advent of the Shomrim in Lakewood. The largely Chassidic security force has already achieved what the Press refer to as a “built-in trust level” with police in Brooklyn, and is a household term among charedi New York area communities. This will be the first Shomrim force in Lakewood, home of the largest yeshiva in the United States, the venerated BMG, Beis Medrash Ha’Gadol, founded by Rabbi Aharon Kotler after World War II. The Shomrim force’s creation follows three recent violent incidents in Lakewood, including the sexual assault of a young lady six weeks ago.
However, it is one particular case that has gained special notariety as of late. The May 17th
alleged bias crime against one black young man, Jamarr Dickerson.
A private school teacher, Zimmerman was charged with assaulting a 15-year-old black youth who cut through private property on Lawrence Avenue. Police officials say when they arrived at the scene May 17, Zimmerman was kneeling on Jamarr Dickerson’s back.
Dickerson has told officials from the Ocean County/Lakewood chapter of the NAACP that a group of men also ran out of a local synagogue and yelled racial slurs.
Exactly what happened?
Elchonon Zimmerman, a 43-year-old who lives on Lawrence Avenue, told the youth he was on private property and tried to take the boy’s picture with his cell phone camera. A scuffle ensued and when a patrolman arrived, he found Zimmerman kneeling on the youth’s back, authorities say. (from this APP article)
The teen has told NAACP officials that a crowd of Orthodox men gathered around him and uttered a series of racial slurs, including comments about how black youths do not belong in a predominantly Jewish section of Lakewood.
Dickerson was treated and released from the hospital for injuries that he said included cuts on his neck and shoulder and some bruises. Dickerson said he also had a shoe print on his right arm.
For this teenager to have reported what he heard as racial slurs, he must have recognized them as such. The report of a rabbi (“private school”? read: yeshiva) tackling this kid would have been shocking enough. If he recognized what he heard as racial slurs, then I can only come to one saddening conclusion: Some guys ran out of shul after praying screaming shvartzer — or worse, the N word. Having completed a conversation with G-d, they ran out and screamed “you (insert epithet)s have no business being around here.”
The Lakewood township meeting about the crime on June 9th drew about 150 people. Jamarr Dickerson — a high school honor student far from a “thug” — said that all he wanted was an apology for what he went through.
When I heard a racial epithet in yeshiva — when a kid called another black bochur the N-word, which was followed by guffaws and chuckles around the mostly Ashkenazi room, baruch Hashem my chavruta at the time recorded him on his tape recorder — I went directly to the mashgiach of Ohr Somayach at the time, Rabbi Nachman Bulman ztvk”l. He said to me words which echo in my head to this day:
“That young man is a baby, and an idiot, and he’s the reason Moshiach’s not here.”
The Sma”g (Sefer Mitsvot ha’Gadol, early 13th century) writes that one of the reasons Moshiach has not yet come is because of the prayers of non-Jews who were wronged by Jews, they stay in Heaven pleading before G-d that the Jews should be in exile longer for what happened to them.
This is a chillul Hashem tantamount to placing the Holy Tetragrammaton on Kleenex. A clear violation of codified Torah law — causing non-Jews to hate Jews — and not to mention a gross lack of fulfillment of the will of G-d, I can only hope that some rabbi in Lakewood will have the courage to speak like my mashgiach. The Orthodox community needs to begin to seriously address issues like this within itself as issues, and not as “being accommodating to the sensitivity of others” upon chance meetings. I find it hard to stomach that Rabbi Akiva, the same person who said “for the sake of peace no man should say ‘my father was better than your father’…[for all humanity] is descended from Adam”, would be honored to stand up and say — “Praiseworthy is he who taught these people Torah”, these people who can scream “shvartzer” or worse at the same volume at which they scream “Hashem hu ha’Elokim”/”Only the L-rd is G-d” on Yom Kippur.
It is not fitting that such a venerable Torah institution with such an illustrious history as Lakewood should have the N-word screamed out of an affiliated shul. The KKK and frum Jews should not have the same speech patterns — es passt nisht.
Lawsuits get settled and paid off, they don’t change minds. Riots and violence certainly only make the walls of ignorance more impregnable. It is only when racism is shown by the Torah Sages to be what it is — a flagrant disregard for Torah, halacha, and the Will of G-d Himself — that it has any hope of being abated in the religious community.
In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “May it be G-d’s Will that His Living Torah be separated from the schemes of humans.” Amen.